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Artists in their own words: Vanessa Schmid


Gabriel Bella, Fat Thursday Festivity in the Piazzetta of San Marco, 18th century, oil on canvas, Venice, Querini Stampalia Foundation

Who: Vanessa Schmid

What: Senior Research Curator for European Art

Artists chosen location for interview: We started at NOMA and ended at CC’s on Esplanade

Q: When is conformity important?

VS: It’s an important way to communicate. One of the most important things with an audience or with audiences is to be able to communicate with them. Why are we holding public cultural property in the public trust if we cannot communicate about it?

Edginess is wonderful. Pushing the envelope is important. Rudeness might even have its place in contemporary art. Conformity can help you communicate to a wider audience, though, so negotiating between conformity and edges is a really important action that happens when you work in a public institution.

When working with art, I don’t necessarily think about conformity in a theoretical way. In the past, I wanted to be a conservator, so I’m incredibly driven by material and process–not in the theoretical way but a technical way. I’m very visual.

Objects create a conversation that is driven by materiality and ideas, and it shouldn’t necessarily be in either order. A major mistake that can be made is this idea that you should be driven by ideas and then material. When I’m teaching with university students, a lot of people don’t realize that objects have been chosen in order to suit the conversation.

Your task when you are in a museum and working with objects is to create a narrative

around the object. That puts important boundaries and limits that really lend themselves to creativity in incredible and different ways.

Object-focused people are extraordinary people. I absolutely love it. [Laughing]. It’s one of my things.

Q: What is something you always find yourself forgetting to do?

VS: I think all of us have a hard time taking care of ourselves. You forget to eat, you forget to take your medication, but you send your mother gifts every week, you remember to check everything off your list for work, and then all of a sudden you realize you have forgotten all about yourself. Yet, I always remember to walk my dog.

I will never forget the moment that I realized I loved my dog. I had never had an animal before, and after having my dog for about a month, I was thinking, ‘This dog is cute, but he’s peed for like the thousandth time.’ Well, about four months later, we’re out running together and this other bar dog starts following us. It was this huge rottweiler. This was when I was living in Amsterdam. Of course this rottweiler is looking at my little breed puppy like a toy.

It wasn’t that the rottweiler was ill-tempered, but we were running so there was this playful aspect to what he was seeing. At some point, he had been following us for almost 20 minutes, and it became really scary. So finally, I picked up my dog, and the rottweiler jumped, and he was so big that he came up to my shoulders. That was the moment when I realized, ‘I have this primal fear of rottweilers, and I just threw myself in between this rottweiler and my dog.’


Q: If you could create and dedicate a room to one artists of your choosing, what would that room look like?

VS: I think one of the most important things is to have an eye for space. It’s similar to when you first move into an apartment and you mentally start placing furniture and art in specific places. There’s definitely a talent in that spatial awareness.

There’s no question that at NOMA we are always shaping the spaces for our audiences and taking them into consideration. Even when designers send me photos of their work, I can look at it and know what will work in our space and what won’t really work in our space. Although, once you get it unpacked you can find that you were completely wrong. [Laughing]. Also taking into consideration how objects talk to one another is important.

I have a deep affection for not only technique and materials but also sculpture. If you talk about what kind of room I would want personally, it would be full of really fantastic bronzes. Nudes. Twisting, curving bronze sculptures. Then, I would love to juxtapose those with this moment that was happening in the 60s through 80s in the Netherlands, which was conversations about style and an emphasis on contortion. It was called the mannerist period. I think those would create great conversations among each other.

To do this in my room I just need to find a major fundraiser who is my best friend.

Q: How do anticipation and predictability play a role in your life?

VS: I really wish I could be connected to predictability. Not only do I think I’m driven by change–I’ve move around a lot, I have an adventurous spirit–but I seek stability. I see how predictability gives dear friends and colleagues the ability to get through really difficult projects.

Of course, not having predictability gives me a resourcefulness, and I can be flexible. I hope that predictability factor will come with age.

With anticipation, I have it all the time, and I love having it all the time. I’m extremely contemplative and internal, but one of the really exciting parts of my life is being able and allowed to activate connection with others.

In the past five years, I’ve moved three or four times. In a way, I can’t wait for it to end, and I’m really hoping that New Orleans is where I land. Yet, that moving has pushed me and shaped me in certain ways, but when you talk about anticipation, I’m ready. If I have to learn a new language, if I have a brand new project thrown at me, or if I’m confronting a difficult situation, I’m ready to get up and go at it.


The New Orleans Museum of Art is currently exhibiting “New at NOMA: Recent Acquistion in Modern and Contemporary Art”; “African Art: The Bequest from the Francoise Billion Richardson Charitable Trust”; “A Life of Seduction: Venice in the 1700s”; “Orientalism: Taking and Making.” For a full category of events taking place at NOMA, you can check out their calendar as well as follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



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